“What WERE those things?” my friend Ingrid asked. “They were aaaamzing.”
What those “things” were is my new favorite super easy “cookie” recipe that is impossible to resist. These chewy, peanutty bars with soft butter chocolate frosting have everything going for them:
First, you probably have the ingredients for them on hand right now.
Secondly, they have fiber and protein to help slow down the absorption of sugar, so you and your kids or guests can enjoy an indulgent treat with less of a sugar rush. (I confess to have eaten a couple of them with an ice cold glass of milk and happily called it breakfast.)
They only take about 5 minutes to mix, just 18 to 20 minutes to bake. Cool to the touch, frost, cut and serve a bunch. This makes them the perfect dessert to bake for last-minute guests, to satisfy a gotta-have-it-now craving for a sweet treat, or make n’ take to a potluck or bake sale.
Making a pan of bar cookies is so much faster and easier than baking cookies… and, I’ve not yet met a cookie I like as well as these peanuty chocolate babies. Be sure to save the link to this recipe because I think you’ll use it again and again.
1/2 c. peanut butter
1/4 c. sugar (I use organic)
1/2 c. packed brown sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1 c. flour (or 3/4 c. flour plus 1/4 c. hemp seeds or ground flax or wheat germ)
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 c. rolled oats
One of Jackson’s first phrases was “Hair back.” Before this, he would point to my hair and just say, “Back. Back.” And now, still, at 2 1/2, he cares just as much. We have a morning ritual. I come in his room and lean over his crib and say “Good morning baby. How was your night?” And he responds with one of two phrases. He’ll either say with a disappointed, slightly surprised look, as if he can’t believe we are still going over this, “Put your hair up, mommy,” or with a smile of approval and gratitude, he’ll exclaim “Your hair’s up!”
Yesterday we went through this conversation again after a breakfast of blueberry waffles (recipe to come soon). He asked me out of the blue, “Is daddy going to pick me up from school tomorrow.” “No, I will, like I always do,” I told him. “And you’ll wear your hair up?” he asked. (Seriously? I thought I had at least another year or two before he cared what I looked like in front of his school friends! What kind of pressure is being put on two year olds these days?)
Tuesday I wore my hair down, but before cooking dinner I went to my room to put it up. Jackson and I bumped into each other as I was walking out of the room. He stumbled backwards, looked up and grinned sheepishly, almost blushing, “You put your hair up for me.” And then I knelt down to my knees, looked him in the eyes and asked, “Do you like when I wear my hair up?” “Yes, I like it.” “Then yes, it was for you. Thank you for thinking I look pretty with my hair up.”
You see, wearing my hair up is the tell-tale sign that I haven’t washed my hair today. It says I’ve been too busy to stop and take care of myself or that I don’t value my appearance. Every mom book out there suggests, “Even if you can’t do it all, at the very least, take a shower, wash your hair and get dressed for the day.” This is bare minimum self-care 101 folks…and I so often don’t get to it.
But Jackson sees the mop of curls wrapped up and twisted in a messy pile on top of my head as beautiful. That messy updo is the sign of a lady who spent breakfast sitting across from her son telling him made up stories about his Adventures on the Construction Site. It’s the sign of a woman who, on at least a weekly basis, snoozes her alarm because her boy woke up asking to sleep in mommy’s bed and she doesn’t want to wake him. It’s evidence she spent her morning pretending to fix the toy weedeater (that isn’t actually broken), instead of leaving him to play alone while she showered.
In reality, it probably all began because he didn’t like how my hair tickled his face when I rocked him as a baby or because on a bad hair day, I closely resemble Medusa. A few days ago, a picture of Prince was up on the tv screen, and he told me matter of factly, sure as could be, “That’s a monster.” We had a talk about all of God’s people being beautiful…but in truth, I might actually terrify him with my wild curls coming out of my head like tentacles looking for prey. Either way, it’s nice to be looked at in awe in my natural too tired for style mama state.
He loves my hair up.
Pausing from our typical “food blog” today, I want to share some nourishing thoughts with you that have awakened something new and good in me.
Yesterday I attended a fascinating workshop on a method for “parenting children in hard places” called TBRI (Trust Based Relational Intervention based on the book, The Connected Child by Karen Purvis). I cannot stop thinking about some of the insights gained, lessons taught, stories of hope shared — and applying them to everything I know about spirituality, relationships and healing. All night and even as I woke this morning, I’ve been having the sort of “A-ha!” moments that feel like mini-explosions in my mind, miracle shifts in understanding.
The main theme that my friend Amanda Purvis (one of the teachers of the workshop) shared, from a deep heart level (sometimes with tears), is that everyone needs to feel their “preciousness” … in the same way that a mother gazes adoringly at her baby in the crook of her arms; or as adults, I imagine this is the way my husband Greg looks at me, his sure blue eyes willing my oft-insecure brown ones of his steady delight, his forever love. As if I am the only woman who exists for him in all the earth.
Dr. Dan Siegal, in his insightful book The Whole Brain Child, alludes to emotional health as helping ourselves and our children live in a “river of well-being.” This sort of balanced existence begins with knowing we are, in the deepest center of our being, “The Beloved.” (Borrowing from the classic by Henri Nouwan.) Children who do not have this sense of “preciousness” grow into adults who do not know this, so at some level, in bad ways and good, they search for this feeling of belonging and being cherished all their lives.
All of us have some trauma, big and small, and each one affects our brain chemistry at the moment. To be bereft of comfort or love after trauma, however, sears our brains with pain; the way we view our world can become skewed and harsh and fearful. But God’s heart is to never leave us “comfortless” and we can heal when we are truly seen, heard, allowed our voice and treated with respect by someone willing to be a loving vessel for God’s love.
In other words, we heal as we see ourselves “precious in His sight” ….. then, in time, we become Wounded Healers (borrowing again from the language of Nouwan), as we allow ourselves to see the “preciousness” in others. We can stand in the gap for El Roi, “The God Who Sees Me” … as we look deeper at one another, and point out the beauty we find there.
Last night Greg and I watched one of my all-time favorite films, Enchanted April. I saw its redemptive themes in fresh light, having just come from a class on how helping wounded children to see their “belovedness” heals and brings them new life. In short, the movie is about four women from the 1920’s who, each longing for an escape from their lives, pool their money together to rent an Italian Villa by the sea, “San Salvatore”. (I realized that even the name of the villa, “Savior”, foreshadowed what was to come.)
Lottie, the discontented but lovable wife –who was the most anxious to flee her life for a month — is the first to wake to lost joy as she allows the beauty of sea, flowers and hills to melt and soften her heart. Then, as she soaks in this balm, feels herself wholly Beloved, she meanders in and out of the other characters’ lives. She says to each person, in her own way , no matter how cranky, or disconnected, vain, or insensitive they are (in the midst of their brokenness and ugliness), “I see inside you, I see the real you. And you are unbelievably precious. In time, you’ll see it too.” She is what some might call a “Christ-figure” in the movie, touching every character and leaving them with a feeling of having been truly seen, messiness and all, and found worthy of love and tenderness. In time, thus loved by a human friend and rocked in the lap of nature, each woman awakens to love and beauty, and one by one, each experiences their own unique April of soul.
At the end of a movie a formerly bitter old lady, now feeling youthfully alive, leaves behind her walking stick, jamming it into the dirt. We see, through high speed film, that it blossoms into a flowering tree. An old walking cane, returned to its original purpose, to be the trunk from which flowers draw their nourishment. A symbol of how the warmth of love can re-purpose our old wounds, bringing us back to Eden and the way life was originally intended to be. When one woman heals, says an old proverb, she heals seven generations. I do not know if this is true, but I know when one woman deeply realizes her belovedness, her very presence is healing to others.
May you feel your “preciousness” today, as you imagine God holding you, rocking you, gazing at you, delighting in you… His forever beloved child. And may you pass this on to your children and your children’s children and all who come in contact with you in the present.
“Yahweh, your God, is in the midst of you, a mighty one who will save. He will rejoice over you with joy. He will calm you in his love. He will rejoice over you with singing.” Zeph 3:7 (World English Bible)
(Becky, the Mama.) I just returned from bringing this simple cobbler to my pastor Hugh Halter’s new ranch house for a pot luck lunch on the back porch. It is mid-January but I do believe God decided to borrow a perfect Spring Day from April, and drop it on us today as an early treat. Hugh is also a passionate author and storyteller (his latest book, Flesh,just released this week), and we share a mutual love of cooking and experimenting in the kitchen. Today he made a yummy creamy lentil soup and a delicious quinoa salad with cranberries, diced sweet potatoes and pears with a light vinaigrette. What can I say? The man knows his way around the Bible, a horse barn and the kitchen.
So it was no small compliment when he strode out to the back porch and hollered out, “Becky Johnson! Did you make that cobbler?”
“I did,” I said.
“Well, it just changed my life. That might be the best dessert I’ve ever tasted.”
I thought about calling this “Change Your Life Cobbler,” but decided that might be over-promising a wee bit. But I will tell you that there are few desserts you can make that will garner as many kudos, for as little trouble to make, as this recipe. It is one of my standard throw-together-in-a-hurry desserts for a crowd.
Using frozen fruit and Pillsbury refrigerated pie crusts, you can assemble this dish in about five minutes. It does take about 45 minutes to an hour to cook, however. It’s nice to pop in the oven if you are having company for dinner, while you prepare the rest of the meal. Or if you are having folks over for dessert only, pop it in the oven then you can go take a nice bath and get yourself ready for their arrival. A little Blue Bell vanilla ice cream on top never hurt anybody. Some of the crust may sink a little into the berries as it cooks. No worries as I think this makes the cobbler tastes even better, with the pastry having different textures. You want it look rustic and free-formed, like a farmer’s wife just made it.
Try this cobbler with other combinations of fruit, fresh or frozen. Peaches, Apples, Rhubarb, and Raspberries would also be delicious. If you like you can add a little cinnamon or nutmeg, vanilla or almond flavoring for variety.
Easy Rustic Cherry Blueberry Pastry-Style Cobbler
4 cups frozen blueberries (you may also use fresh if in season and on sale)
2 1/2 cups frozen dark sweet pitted cherries
1 1/2 cups sugar (plus 2 more T. for sprinkling on top later)
1/2 c. flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
Juice of one fresh lemon
2 T. butter
2 Pillsbury refrigerated pie crusts, unrolled
Preheat Oven to 375 degrees.
Put the fruit in the biggest bowl you have (can be frozen or thawed at this point). Toss with sugar, flour, salt and lemon juice. Pour into a lightly greased, large, oblong Pyrex pan.
Take small pinches of the butter and dot it all over the top of the fruit.
Place one pie crust at the end of the pan, and lightly tuck it in to place. Tear the other pie crust in pieces to fit the oblong plan as best you can, and pinch any seams together, free form, like a patchwork quilt. I like to make an edge and flute it a little bit, but do not worry about making it perfect. Using a sharp paring knife, cut a few designs in the pastry to allow the juice to steam through. Sprinkle the top top of the pastry with 2 T. sugar.
Bake for 1 hour if the fruit is frozen, for about 45 minutes if thawed. You want the pastry to be very golden and juice to be thickened. Let it sit at least 15 to 30 minutes before serving. Is wonderful plain or with a bit of whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.
When I worked at the Olive Garden in college, the biggest temptation was the bread drawer, the place where the fresh-out-of-the-oven garlicky bread sticks keep warm until they are to be swaddled in cloth like little dough baby Jesuses and placed in a basket, then delivered to anxious guests alongside a family-sized salad with large clumsy tongs.
Here’s a little server secret: to maximize your salad and breadstick dining pleasure, don’t bother asking for extra dressing or scooping up the last bit swimming at the bottom of the salad bowl. The real indulgence comes in dipping them into a boat of alfredo sauce, it’s a combination you won’t long forget. And the only thing it will cost you is $2.50, 380 calories and 35 grams of fat! Yeah sorry….total buzz kill. But good news is ahead.
This morning, an idea for a simple garlic cream sauce recipe popped into my head. It sounded so easy that right there at 10am, I whipped it up in my Vitamix. And when I opened the blender top ten minutes later, the steaming creamy sauce brought me right back to my shifts at the OG. The smell of garlic filling the air as you opened the bread drawer and winked to the cook for a little ramekin of alfredo. The combination so naughty, yet so irresistible. Hungry servers gathered around to share the quick indulgence, all the while looking out of the corner of our eyes to make sure a manager wasn’t swinging through the kitchen door or the skinny girl with self-control wasn’t looking down on us with judgement.
Somehow this sauce captures that naughty thrilling indulgence – the taste of garlic and cream dancing on your tastebud – but it’s oh so right in so many ways. No oil, no dairy, no cholestorol, just healthy fats from cashews. And with a rich creamy sauce like this, who really needs a refined white flour breadstick to dunk in it? Serve it over whole wheat pasta or vegetables or dip your favorite toasted whole grain baguette in it and you’ll be every bit as satisfied. It’s mind blowingly delicious and the easiest cream sauce I’ve made yet. I see many spin-offs of this in my future. Add a little cayenne for some heat, roast the garlic, garnish with some basil to brighten it up for spring, maybe even add some spinach and artichokes and cook it down to a thick appetizer dip. Oh the potential!
Note: I did not pre-saute the garlic, so it has a little bit of that raw garlic bite…that will stay the evening with you. I am a sucker for garlic, but if you like your garlic a little more milder and not as an overnight guest, then you may want to mince and saute it in a touch of water or olive oil before adding it in.
Garlic Cashew Cream Sauce
Recipe from http://www.laughcrycook.com
Makes enough for 16 ounces of cooked pasta (about four large servings)
1 cup raw cashews
1/4 cup nutritional yeast (available at health markets)
1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon salt
2 large or 3-4 small garlic cloves
2 teaspoons cornstarch (flour will probably work too, but you’ll probably need 3-4 teaspoons)
2 cups milk (I used unsweetened almond milk)
4 teaspoons lemon juice
Vitamix or High-Speed Blender Directions
1. Blend cashews, nutritional yeast, and 1/4 teaspoon of salt into a powder. Scrape corners down.
2. Add garlic, cornstarch, 1/2 of milk. Blend until combined.
3. Add remaining milk and blend on high speed until hot and steamy (about five to seven minutes) and to the thickness desired.
4. Blend in lemon juice and check for seasoning. Add more salt if desired.
5. Serve over pasta or vegetables or as a dipping sauce for bread. Sprinkle individual servings with a touch of pepper.
Vitamix is having a sale on their reconditioned models this month (January 2014). I bought the standard reconditioned model in November when they had the same sale and have officially fallen into the “How did I ever live without it?!” camp. You can use the code 06-009318 at Vitamix.com to get free shipping and to help support Laugh, Cry, Cook.
Food Processor/Stove Top Instructions
1. In a food processor blend cashews, nutritional yeast, and 1/4 teaspoon of salt into a powder. Scrape down sides as needed.
2. Mince garlic finely or use microplaner to grate into food processor.
3. Stir cornstarch into 1cup of milk. Add to food processor and blend until well combined.
3. Add remaining milk. Blend again.
4. Transfer to stovetop sauce pan and heat on medium to medium high, stirring often until it is heated through and reached the desired consistency (like a thick alfredo sauce).
4. Stir in lemon juice and check for seasoning. Add more salt if desired.
5. Serve over pasta or vegetables or as a dipping sauce for bread. Sprinkle individual servings with a touch of pepper.
MOIST Chocolate Layer Cake with Buttery Mocha Frosting (& Story of My Daughter’s Unforgettable Birth)Posted: December 28, 2013
Today is my daughter’s 30th birthday! Sadly, Rachel lives too far away to celebrate with in person today (she is in Texas, and I am in Colorado). So I’ve had to make do with texts, Facebook posts, emails, phone calls, Twitter and now, a blog in her honor!
I have great stories about each of my children’s entrances into the world, but Rachel’s birth story wins the Most Exciting Award, hands down.
She was born three days after Christmas. From December 23 to December 28, I was the proverbial pot waiting to boil, only in my case my visiting family was waiting for me to give birth. It was the coldest winter on record in Texas and ice had frozen inside the windows. After enjoying my two sons who were age 3 and 5, I could not help dreaming of a baby girl. Ultrasound pictures were rare in those days, so we did not know the sex ahead of time.
Because my previous home births had involved long painful labors, when I woke up with contractions this third time around, they weren’t terribly painful. So I decided to just lie still, on my side, in the peaceful darkness and labor quietly by the light of the Christmas tree. I didn’t want to wake my husband, parents or sister who were visiting us over the holidays, until I was sure I needed help. This plan went surprisingly well, until I felt something like the urge to push.
I decided to wake up my husband with this news. His eyes grew large as he announced, “Becky, I see the baby’s head!” This set off a Three Ring Circus with my Dad manning the wall phone in the kitchen talking to the midwife, then shouting directions to my mother who was standing in the living room, who relayed them to my then-husband standing at the end of my bed, like a baseball catcher. My college-aged, organized little sister, who is not fond of feeling out of control was, I believe, hiding in the guestroom taking notes in her journal under“Things I Must Never Ever Do.”
The ice on the highways was so thick, and I’d waited so long to sound the “Baby is Coming!” alarm, that the midwife could not possibly get there before the baby’s entrance. Rachel slipped into the world and soon, into my arms, fairly easily. However, she was not breathing on her own, so I reached into our “Home Birth Kit”, grabbed a suctioning bulb and went to work. It wasn’t long before she took her first beautiful breath. We looked in each other’s eyes and made friends immediately. I named her Rachel Praise, after my sister Rachel. Interestingly, the two Rachels in our family both prefer less-crazy, less-messy lives than I’ve lived. Lives where they keep schedules, know what day it is, give birth in hospitals and don’t mind “bothering” other people when they go into labor. However, all three of us love to laugh and ended up writing books of family humor. (My sister’s latest is The Well-Lived Laugh –ebook download is just $1.00 this week, and ours is We Laugh, We Cry, We Cook.)
As soon as I could stand and walk, I scooped up my new daughter and headed to a store, with her big brothers dressed in cowboy boots and hats trailing behind. I walked in and bought 3 lacy bonnets. Before the days of hair bows on stretch lace, it was a frilly bonnet that would say to the world, “Baby GIRL here!” and I wanted the world to know my beautiful newborn was a SHE.
Besides remembering the story of Rachel’s birth (as I do every year on this day in some way), I decided to have a piece of this incredibly moist and buttery, made-from-scratch homemade chocolate cake in her honor. In fact, I had it for breakfast… because these are the kinds of sacrifices mothers make for their birthday girls.
This cake is a variation of the famous recipe on the back of Hershey’s Cocoa. The frosting is extra rich, soft and fluffy – made with lots butter and melted chocolate.
You are most welcome to join us in celebrating Rachel’s birthday today by whipping up this cake. Then stand back and watch people swoon. Seriously it is the kind of chocolate cake that provokes moans not unlike those of Meg Ryan’s in the movie,”When Harry Met Sally”.
Happy Birthday, Dear Rachel! I am so glad you were born. So proud of you as a wife and mother. So thrilled that we got to write a blog and book together this year. So many good things have happened in the world, because you were born.
Now, let’s eat cake!
MOIST, Chocolate Layer Cake with Buttery Mocha Frosting
Ingredients (Adjusted for High Altitude, See “Normal Altitude*” measurement adjustments below)
2 cups minus 2 tablespoons sugar*
1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup Hershey’s cocoa
1-1/4 teaspoons baking powder*
1-1/4 teaspoons baking soda*
1 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons milk*
1/2 cup light oil such as sunflower, canola or light olive oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup boiling water mixed with 1 T. instant coffee (or 1 cup strong hot coffee, brewed)
Heat oven to 350°F.
Grease two 9-inch round cake pans. I use Pam spray. Then cut a circle of wax or parchment paper to fit in the bottom of the pan. Re-spray the top of parchment with Pam lightly.
Sift flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a large mixing bowl. Add sugar, eggs, milk, oil and vanilla. on medium speed for about 2 minutes. Carefully, stir in hot coffee, with the mixer on low, or use a hand whisk. The batter will be very thin. Pour batter evenly into prepared cake pans.
Bake for 30 to 35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes; remove from pans to wire racks. Cool completely. Frost with fluffy mocha frosting.
- Normal Altitude Measurements: 2 cups sugar, 1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder, 1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda, 1 cup milk
- Vegans: substitute milk with soy or almond milk; use Earth Balance Butter Sticks in place of dairy butter, and Ener-G Egg replacer for eggs.
Buttery Mocha Frosting
6 ounces semisweet chocolate chips or morsels (Vegans use dairy-free chocolate chips)
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, at room temperature (really important this be at room temp) (Vegans use Earth balance butter)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 ½ cups sifted confectioners’ sugar
2 – 5 Tablespoons Strong coffee, cooled
Carefully melt the chocolate chips in a double boiler or use the microwave but watch carefully, only nuking 10 seconds at a time, just until you can stir it smoothly.
Beat the butter until it is light yellow and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add vanilla. Turn the mixer to low, gradually add the confectioners’ sugar, the melted chocolate, and then add one tablespoon of coffee at a time until the frosting is smooth and creamy and will spread easily, but don’t whip it. Spread immediately on the cooled cake.
This cake is best served at room temperature. If I make it a day ahead, I put it in the fridge and then let the cake sit at room temperature for several hours so the frosting will soften up to serve the next day. My favorite way to handle leftovers (if there are any) is to cut slices and wrap them individually, very well, in plastic wrap. Then when I want a piece, I unwrap it and put it on a place, and microwave it about 15 seconds to soften.